Security concerns of Mountaineers travelling to Pakistan – by Abbas Raza
Hat swap with the local driver – not-so-scared Americans in northern Pakistan
I was visiting Fairy Meadows which is almost at the base camp of Nanga Parbat and was surprised to find two young French women traveling in the North of Pakistan all by themselves without any male companions or security detail. Out of curiosity I asked if they felt safe doing that and they delighted me by stating that they felt safer here than being on the streets of Paris. So let me begin by describing the geographical location of the Himalayas and Karakoram in the North of Pakistan as most travelers tend to confuse the Tribal Areas ( hideouts of Taliban and other militant outfits ) with the rest of the North. Tribal areas known as FATA are located in the North West bordering Afghanistan, whereas if you are traveling to either Baltistan, home of K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrums, Muztagh towers, Trango Towers, Nanga Parbat, or if your destination is Hunza which is home to Rakaposhi, Hispar-Biafo, Spantik, Diran, Ultar , you will be headed to the North East on the Karakoram Highway which lies between Islamabad and the Chinese border at Khunjerab Pass. This highway remains entirely on the Western side and does not cross or enter any of the trouble spots. Alternatively, most expeditions simply take flights out of Islamabad to Skardu if the destination is Baltistan or to Gilgit if headed to Hunza. Each flight is less than an hour. Islamabad International Airport caters to flights coming in and going out to USA, Europe, Middle East, Far East etc. So the best option is to arrive there and then take a flight out to either Skardu or Gilgit.
Baltistan is a Shia dominated area and is 100% free of any militant outfits, similarly Hunza is mostly Ismailis and Shias (rate of literacy over 90%). These areas are not only safe for visitors from anywhere in the world but are extremely hospitable and friendly. Their economies depend a great deal on tourism and they know it. History of mountaineering in both these areas tell us that there has never been any mishap which one can place at the door of any militant activity. During the last ten years almost 200 expeditions came to these areas and all left safe and sound (barring casualties on the mountains due to weather etc ).
However, some visitors do worry about street agitations, which occurred recently due to the blasphemous video on Youtube, allegedly made by an American, which sparked an anti-America feeling on the street. Most westerners are shocked by such behavior but they must understand that these demonstrations are organized by religious parties and are mainly against the Governments of the countries involved and have nothing to do with individual citizens of the country involved or Anti-West as being propagated by some western news channels. Besides, please note that they remained confined to big cities and subsided as quickly as they first appeared. Fact of the matter is that so far we have no evidence or even a rumor of any foreigner, including Americans, being attacked or injured or killed in any of the demonstrations. Even if you happen to be in Pakistan during any demonstrations etc. do what an average Pakistani will do, simply stay away from the streets as they tend to fizzle out by the evening of the same day and the very next day on the same street is like it never happened. Your chances of encountering any such situation though is less than 1% since your scheduled destinations are by and large free of such reactions and you will most probably wouldn’t even hear of it until you get back home.
So, my advice to all intended mountaineers is to pack your bags, and be in the mountains which will not only fascinate you but startle you as well. The sheer majesty and grandeur of these 8000 M peaks (four of the world’s fourteen ) and 25 peaks exceeding 7000 M. Once you are in Baltistan or Hunza you will feel safer than being on the streets of Paris, Rome, London or New York.